Portraits by Michael Donkin
“Lazy shits” – that’s how Times New Viking’s guitarist Jared Phillips describes journalists who insist on nailing the lo-fi tag to his band. On the dawn of the release of their fifth album, the band have had heard enough talk about fidelity. They’re fed up with being the early darlings of a scene that always seemed more media construct than genuine movement; one whose practitioners, in hindsight, shared more of an outsider mentality than a homogenous musical output.
Though the three-piece hails from Columbus, Ohio, it was their UK label, Wichita, that put up the cash for Phillips, keyboardist and vocalist Beth Murphy, and drummer and vocalist Adam Elliott to record their new album, Dancer Equired, in far comfier surroundings than they’d used before. “We were joking the whole time that we were making a Fleetwood Mac record,” Phillips says. “Just the idea of being in the studio with all this really nice analogue equipment and all these microphones seemed fun. We always wanted to do it, but it was expensive and we never really felt comfortable. But in the end we just decided, fuck it, you know, just try it.” The resulting songs make up a record that is noticeably more polished than the band’s previous four but still fuzzy enough to please the die-hards. From the hook-laden, freewheeling “No Room To Live” to the shimmering 1960s pop gallop of “California Roll”, the deliberately shambolic tinniness of albums past seems to have been abandoned along with the four-track.
“I’m never going to be 100 per cent happy with whatever we do,” Phillips admits, but the new record is Times New Viking’s most cohesive work yet. Its touches of studio sheen brings the hooks that always lurked under the feedback shimmering up to the surface. “Fuck Her Tears”, which Phillips sneeringly describes as “the catchy one”, is the smoothest, straight-up poppiest track they’ve ever recorded. “All the shit people said about us before – it’s true!” he agrees, tongue slightly in cheek. “Underneath all that shit we were writing pop songs all along.”
Still, so many years in the studio and on the road are starting to wear the band down. When pressed about the new record’s new direction, Phillips sighs. “These songs, you know, they’re a little bit more mellow,” he trails off. “We’re almost 30 years old now – what do you expect from us? After six years of touring, it becomes so gruelling that the only time that’s really fun is the 45 minutes where you get to play. You don’t have to think about parking your van or any of that shit. The rest of the time sucks – it’s just staring into space.”
Phillips clearly isn’t relishing the prospect of touring this album. “We’ve got a label in the UK that wants to put the album out and if no one in America wants to, then fuck America,” he says. “I don’t even want to fucking tour there anyway. I’m fucking sick of it – people are tired of seeing us there, you know? I like coming over to the UK because at least people care. It isn’t some city like, I don’t know, Dallas, where they’ve seen us five times and they never even gave a fuck to begin with.
“Part of me would like to get on with my life, get a real job at some point,” he continues, “but I’ve been doing this so long now, I can’t even imagine what I’d do – maybe a ditch digger? A grave digger? Something with digging. We’d like to carry on but we’ll see how it goes – we don’t really want to admit it but we’re hoping that things go a little bit better. And if they don’t go better, then I don’t need to spend the whole of my life in the back of a van. I can play music any time I want. I think we’ll all still make music but whether we’re doing it in a year’s time, I don’t know. We’re just playing it by ear.” §